The U.S. Congress enacted expansive (and expensive) health care reforms amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Public acquiescence provided crucial political cover; elites on both sides struggled mightily to sway popular opinion. Were reformers' efforts made easier or more difficult by the tough economic times? Using newly available data on Americans' perceptions of economic insecurity and attitudes toward public policy, this article explores the relationship between economic circumstances and political attitudes. The findings suggest that the Great Recession both facilitated and impeded efforts to rally the public in favor of reform: perceptions of past declines in the U.S. economy bolstered government intervention, but household economic insecurity both distracted attention from large medical expenses (which otherwise legitimized collective action) and undermined Americans' support for additional government spending. Equally consequential, reformers' efforts to adapt to economic stringency by portraying reform as exclusively about affordability missed opportunities for broadening popular support for these interventions; in the longer run this may, unless corrected, prove a decisive misstep in shepherding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act through its long time line of implementation.
Making the Best of Hard Times: How the Nation's Economic Circumstances Shaped the Public's Embrace of Health Care Reform
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Mark Schlesinger; Making the Best of Hard Times: How the Nation's Economic Circumstances Shaped the Public's Embrace of Health Care Reform. J Health Polit Policy Law 1 December 2011; 36 (6): 989–1020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03616878-1460560
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